Fantasy Baseball Sustainable Streaks: How long will the Tyler Naquin party last?
Baseball is a grind — and the fantasy version of the game is no different. And because it's a grind, baseball features streaks. Hitters can get hot at the plate, seemingly seeing beach balls thrown at them. Pitchers can get hot on the mound, too. And of course, both can get freezing cold.
In this space, we'll take a weekly look at who's hot and who's not — and whether you should believe in the streak.
(Editor's note: All stats derived before game action on Sunday, April 11)
Yermin Mercedes, UTIL, Chicago White Sox
It might seem like Yermin Mercedes came out of nowhere, but he's been doing this baseball thing for a while. A solid hitter in the Dominican Republic (facing above-average pitching, no less), Mercedes' start in 2021 has been nothing less than spectacular, capped off by a mammoth first-inning home run on Thursday — in the rain — against Brad Keller.
He's up to 78 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues. The question is, should that number be closer to 100, or are fantasy managers just waiting for this hot streak to taper off so they can jump ship?
We can all agree that Mercedes is not going to hit .556 for the rest of the season; no one can. But when this stupendous, entertaining streak inevitably comes to an end, you shouldn't rush to send Mercedes to the waiver wire. In 11 seasons of professional ball, Mercedes has compiled a line of .308/.368/.494. That'll work in any fantasy format. His fly-ball percentage in the minors was over 40 percent and he only had one season when he struck out more than 17 percent of the time.
There's a chance Mercedes remains an above-average hitter, protected by this potent White Sox lineup. The issue that might be more important with Mercedes is his position. He's the third catcher on the White Sox depth chart but has been playing DH for them so far. It remains to be seen if that will stick rest-of-season, but all fantasy managers should watch the situation closely.
Until then, just enjoy the ride, enjoy the hype — and don't be so quick to jump ship when it ends.
Ryan McMahon, 1B/2B/3B, Colorado Rockies
Oh, how we have waited for this one.
Aside from two hitless games, McMahon has been tearing the cover off the ball, putting together a .333/.353/.848 line in nine contests and tying Tyler Naquin (more on him shortly) for the league lead in home runs (McMahon has only struck out five total times in these nine games, too). He even had a 4-for-6 barrage on April 6, where he hit THREE home runs.
So what do we make of this? It seems like fantasy managers have wanted McMahon to break out as a dependable Colorado hitter for years, but he's still only 26. In his four previous seasons (he's never played a full MLB season) he's never shown anything close to this level of hitting prowess — save for one: 2019.
In 2019, McMahon delivered 24 home runs and 83 RBI in 141 games. He's also showcased double-digit homer and stolen-base ability in the high minors, and fantasy managers love his triple-position eligibility.
Unfortunately, there's a glaring red flag with McMahon: He has been tethered to the dreaded home/road split that has haunted many a Rockies hitter. Look at his career numbers in Coors Field, and outside of those friendly, airy confines:
HOME: .274/.346/.531, .877 OPS
AWAY: .201/.288/.329, .617 OPS
Not great for his profile. So, while his hot start is to be celebrated and enjoyed, do not be surprised if McMahon suffers a cold spell that happens to coincide with a road trip. He should be rostered as long as he receives quality playing time (especially as part of a Rockies lineup that's weaker than it's ever been in recent seasons), but he's also someone to consider benching away from Coors.
Tyler Naquin, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds have been an offensive juggernaut to start the season, leading the league in runs so far, and one of the main driving forces of that start has been Naquin. He's tied for first in homers, tied for first in RBIs, third in slugging, and fifth in OPS.
He's been mashing, to put it plainly. But is this a sign of things to come?
Well, outside of Jack Flaherty (who wasn't at his best), the Reds were blessed with a cake schedule to start the season, taking on a weak Cardinals pitching staff and the bottom-barrel Pittsburgh Pirates before starting a series against another weak team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Naquin has always had power, but he's been absolutely hammering the ball thus far, well beyond anything he's ever done in his career. Just look at these numbers: a barrel percentage of 23.8 (career: 7.3), hard-hit percentage of 76.2 (career: 43 percent), and an obscene HR/FB% of 62.5 (career: 16.7!!!). So, no, this won't last, and the leveling out will probably hurt as much as the start has been impressive.
Jesse Winker is back as well, and he'll be part of the outfield shuffle, which could put somewhat of a damper on Naquin's playing time. Second, as mentioned before, Naquin has also never had these kinds of numbers, so this is the epitome of a hot start.
Unless he's breaking out at the age of 29 (which admittedly isn't impossible), be ready to send him to the waiver wire the moment the streak comes to an end.
Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves
I'm not worried about Ozzie one bit. The whole Atlanta offense sputtered to start the season (but has since awoken) — especially away from Truist Park — after pacing ALL OF MLB in OPS during the 2020 season. The fact remains, however, that Albies' start at the plate — 4-for-31, .129 average — after being drafted as the second 2B in fantasy drafts (in the third round) has been disappointing.
It'll end soon though, I figure. It's not like he's been striking out at an alarming rate (just four on the season), and his BABIP through eight games has been a paltry .148.
Suffice to say, Albies has suffered from some bad luck when the ball has left his bat. No need to panic.
Keston Hiura, 1B/2B, Milwaukee Brewers
There might be a need to panic with Hiura, however. The 24-year-old has already struck out a whopping 12 times in 28 at-bats, and this start looks even worse when you consider he's always struggled with swings and misses throughout his minor-league career.
He's definitely not going to hit .107 the rest of the season, but his plate discipline in tandem with his lack of stolen bases could limit the upside his power provides in fantasy leagues. He's struck out at least once in every game this season — and twice five times.
He finally broke through with a home run, a big three-run shot against the Cardinals on Saturday, ultimately going 2-for-3 on the day (he also struck out once). You would think that, with the big hit, the Brewers would leave him in the lineup; instead, he'll get the day off against St. Louis on April 11.
The draft investment will probably keep his rostered percentage high, but unless Hiura cuts the strikeouts soon, he could find himself on more shallow-league waiver wires than expected.
Francisco Lindor, SS, New York Mets
It's only been a five-game sample, but Lindor's 3-for-17 start (.176 batting average, an equally ugly .176 slugging percentage) is not what fantasy managers or Mets fans have wanted nor expected from the multimillion-dollar man. Lindor has yet to collect an extra-base hit this season.
Outside of one game against the Phillies, the entire Mets offense has underwhelmed (to put it nicely), most recently providing the outstanding Jacob deGrom with no run support on a day the ace delivered eight innings of one-run, 14 strikeout ball.
Lindor is too talented for this cold spell to last much longer, and one good sign is that he's been walking a ton to start the season (16.7 percent walk rate in the early going) so he's setting himself up for stolen-base and run-scoring opportunities.
We just need the rest of the Mets offense to give him a chance when he does get on base. Too early to get anxious about Lindor; stay the course.